Daniel Martinez said that Councilman James Casey’s call for his removal from the Ceres Planning Commission over a political endorsement he won from the owner of the El Rematito Flea Market is an act of “political retaliation.”
Commissioner Martinez is one of three candidates for the District 4 Ceres City Council seat on Nov. 8. Others in the race are Dave Carreon and John R. Osgood III.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Casey charged that it was inappropriate for Martinez to pose for a photo opp with flea market owner Pedro Marquez given that Martinez last week motioned that the commission extended El Rematito’s conditional use permit amendment for 12 months. The commission voted 4-0 to approve the extension to allow the market to operate while the city and the owners iron out problems. One issue centers on whether or not an adjacent dirt lot may be used for overflow customer parking given the past complaints about dust.
City planning staff recommended a six-month extension.
Casey criticized the 12-month extension, saying it “kinda doesn’t make a lot of sense because if there’s a problem we need to fix it.”
He said the photo opp “sends the wrong message to the citizens of Ceres that a planning commissioner can make a motion … on the surface doing a sort of a favor for a business person, and then turn around in the same week be endorsed by that person.”
Casey then hastily called for Martinez’s removal.
“From my side of the street it doesn’t look proper,” said Casey, “and again, I don’t know the proper way to have him removed from the commission but I would recommend it.”
Mayor Javier Lopez immediately blasted Casey’s remarks as “kind of ridiculous” and asked that Casey visit the flea market and “really see how much that flea market has done for this community and I really don’t want to get into an argument. Just know I feel that you are incorrect. Mr. Martinez is an independent person; he can choose to make those decisions because that is what he is supposed to do as a commissioner.”
City Attorney Nubia Goldstein said she would look into Casey’s charge but added that the council is not the arbiter of ethnics, saying such matters are reviewed by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
Martinez said he hasn’t accepted any financial campaign donations from El Rematito and termed Casey’s stunning call “definitely political retaliation.”
Martinez said he took a lot of heat from the Hispanic community for not motioning to allow the flea market to use an unpaved lot for parking. He told the Courier that since commissioners were criticized for not answering if they had ever visited the flea market, he reached out to Pedro Marquez, the owner of the flea market for a visit.
“It turns out he had heart surgery scheduled for Friday morning so I met with him on Wednesday or Thursday,” said Martinez. “He drove me around his complex. He showed me the parking lot that was in question. We talked about it for a little bit. He gave me a photo. I didn’t put up any signs in his yard. I didn’t get any money from him. It was more just a photo for an endorsement so the people in the community would know that, yes, I have been there before and I do shop there sometimes on Sundays after church. That was about it.”
Martinez said that prior to the first scheduled meeting about the flea market on Sept. 23 – later cancelled due to a power outage in Ceres – Casey had called with a “list of questions he wanted me to ask for his friend, who I guess is the person making the complaint against the flea market. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that.”
Martinez said that prior to the Oct. 3 Planning Commission meeting, the same questions Casey posed also appeared in a group email sent by Ceres resident John Warren. Casey had been included in the group message.
Martinez asked a city staffer didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask questions on Casey’s behalf.
Martinez said that Casey’s quest to remove him from the commission is retaliatory “since I didn’t do him the favor and ask on behalf of his friend.” He said Casey is now harassing him which he called “unfortunate.”